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David Wilkie


David Wilkie is Britain’s most successful international swimmer of the 20th century - he was the Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion in the 1970s. In his heyday, he was the UK's first superstar swimmer, winning a gold medal in the 200m breaststroke at the 1976 Olympic Games and breaking five world records during his long and illustrious career.

Early life

Although his parents hailed from Aberdeen in Scotland, they had moved to Colombo, Sri Lanka, by the time David was born on 8th March 1954. Aged just 3, the youngster learned to swim at the open-air Colombo Swimming Club. Aged 11, he was sent to boarding school at Daniel Stewart's College in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he continued to swim at Warrender Baths Club.

Here is where the intensive training began, including the development of his breaststroke under leading British coach Frank Thomas. In later life, David credited him with giving him the motivation to excel at his sport. In 1969, David joined the Scottish Training Squad which was part of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association.


His first foray into adult competitive swimming was the 1970 Commonwealth Games, where he won a bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke, followed by a silver medal at the 1972 Olympics in the 200m breaststroke. He was on a relatively modest training schedule at this point but his successes inspired him to train harder.

In January 1973, he became a student of marine biology at the University of Miami, where he had excellent training facilities and enough self-motivation to establish himself as the world's leading breaststroke swimmer. In the summer of 1973, he won the 200m breaststroke at the World Championships in Belgrade, setting a new world record and improving on the European and Commonwealth records he had set earlier in the day.

In 1974, David won the 200m breaststroke and 200m individual medley at both the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games - his winning time in the individual medley at the European Championships set a new world record.

His outstanding achievements earned him an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 1974.

Olympic triumph

David's astounding success continued at the 1975 World Championships, where he won the individual breaststroke event and a bronze medal in the medley relay.

In 1976, David became the first Britain ever to win American Championship titles - three in total. He won the 100m and 200m breaststroke and the 200m individual medley. This was ideal preparation for the 1976 Montréal Olympics, when David fulfilled his greatest ambition.

He won the gold medal in the 200m breaststroke, beating the world record by more than three seconds and achieving what many experts deemed to be the finest performance of 1976 in the Olympic pool.


David retired from swimming while at the top of his game, leaving a legacy as being Scotland's greatest ever swimmer. He spearheaded a campaign in the mid-1970s to teach children to swim, visiting schools to inspire pupils to learn, as it could save their life.

He made public information films as part of the campaign, in which he is seen chatting to schoolchildren in the swimming pool. He told his own life story to them, including how lucky he was to have learned to swim at three. He had a message for those kids who hadn't managed to learn and who grew up thinking they couldn't swim.

He told the enthralled youngsters there was nothing to fear because swimming was a normal activity and that they would feel great once they got in the water.

Since his retirement from competitive swimming, he has been active in developing swimming aids and new technology. He was the first swimmer to wear a swimming hat and goggles in competitions to streamline his performance. He was inducted in the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

In his private life, David met his Swedish partner Helen Isacson in 1985. The couple have two children, Natasha and Adam.

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